Sam Hauser has come out of the gates red hot in pre-season. Knocking down his shots at an elite clip from all over the perimeter, and flashing an improved cutting game when operating off-ball.
If you had chalked up the sophomore forward’s impressive game against the Charlotte Hornets to the opponent's poor defense, that would have been more than fair. Now, though, having shot 80% against the Toronto Raptors, it might be time to get off the fence and onto the Hauser hype train.
Last season, the Virginia product was a stationary shooter, positioned in the corners as an offensive release valve, and was often overlooked as a genuine threat by opposing defenses — something which Jayson Tatum has been reminding him of to begin this season.
“I tell him all the time if I was that wide open – if people left me that wide open, and all I had to do was catch and shoot, I would make a lot more shots as well. I tell Sam he should send me a thank you card for being on the floor together.”
Yet, against the Raptors, who boast an incredible amount of length and athleticism, Hauser still managed to find his spots and convert his jumpers, regardless of who was in his face or stampeding toward him on the close-out.
Take this possession for instance. Hauser re-locates to allow Malcolm Brogdon to receive the rock on the strong-side corner, by ‘L-cutting’ the sophomore forward ends up at the top of the perimeter, where Brogdon feeds him the rock. Suddenly, Hauser has two behemoths running at him in Pascal Siakam and Precious Achiuwa, nevertheless, he gets his shot off despite the pressure and length in his way, and converts the shot to beat the buzzer.
What’s interesting, is that Toronto didn’t really respect the shooting Hauser brings when guarding this possession, as when he cut toward the perimeter, no defenders followed or instructed a switch. Instead, it took two defenders scrambling to apply some pressure to the shot — whereas, if Hauser was respected for his shooting, the passing lane would have been denied from the moment he found his spot.
Another aspect that caught my attention is that not only did Hauser relocate to begin the play, but he relocated to an area of the court where he could be impactful. As the kids would say these days, he understood the assignment.
You see, being an elite shooter isn’t just about knocking down your jumpers, it’s also about hunting your spots, making yourself available, and forcing the defense to adjust to your movements, which in turn, will open up lanes for those around you.
Shooters also need to be both willing and able to attack close-outs if they wish to earn significant minutes within a rotation, especially that of a contending team. Judging by Hauser’s performance in the above play, where he not only attacked a close-out off the dribble but sold the pass fake before finishing with the tidy lay-up, he’s got no problem in venturing into a forest of tall trees.
“I think Sam’s a really hard worker, and he naturally has confidence. He does a great job of playing off other people and making the right play when necessary. I think he definitely has a role for us, I thought that was the great thing about tonight because we saw five guys that were competing who can help us, and Sam falls into that category,” Celtics head coach, Joe Mazzulla said.
Judging by the first two games of pre-season, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Malcolm Brogdon are all looking to work around the rim, either off cutting, post-ups, or straight bully drives to the hoop. So, having a player who commands attention on the perimeter, that also likes to move off the ball and drag defenses with him, is going to be a significant difference maker for the space Tatum and Brown find themselves with this year — assuming Hauser can command the defenses respect.
Of course, the flip side to this is that should the defense collapse, Hauser will be there to put the defense onto the naughty step, so they have time to think about what they’ve done while inbounding the basketball. Over his first two games, Hauser has shot 9-for-13 from deep, so it shouldn’t be long until defenses start honing in on him a little more, and his floor spacing ability can really kick into gear.
Nobody is expecting Hauser to continue sitting around 70-80% on his threes, but if he can be for Boston, what Duncan Robinson was for the Miami Heat before he signed his contract extension and went AWOL, then the Celtics are going to be in a much better position with their bench scoring than they were last season.
And if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s all we can ask for from an undrafted sophomore forward who recently signed a new contract with the team. Well, I guess we could also hope for some defense, but that already looks like it’s improved from last year too.
Nobody is asking Hauser to be an elite defender, nor are they expecting him to suddenly become a go-to guy at the point of attack. Still, if Hauser can stay in front of his man, box out on shot attempts, and provide an impact on the defensive glass, then his overall value to the team increases.
Right now, Hauser is doing everything that’s being asked of him and is responding to the challenges set by Ime Udoka at the end of last season. If we continue to see this version of Hauser throughout the remainder of pre-season, Boston’s slashers will be operating with an improved team spacing whenever he checks into the game off the bench. Not bad for an undrafted flyer.